Ten pro tips to prepare for riding season
We made it! It’s almost springtime and that means it’s almost riding season! If you’re anything like me, you’re probably really excited at the prospect of riding in the next month or so. Now is the perfect time to start getting your motorcycle, your riding equipment and yourself prepared for that first ride. Here are some pro tips to get everything ready to go.
- Plan for service.Servicing your motorcycle is the most important aspect of preparing. Don’t wait until ride day, or you may be tempted to rush. If you’re a better rider than mechanic, I recommend taking your motorcycle to a local dealership or professional mechanic, so be sure to plan ahead for that. If you’re a capable mechanic yourself, you can do most of this in a day, although there is one part of this service you might want to have done professionally.
- Change your fluids.If it’s been longer than six months since you changed your engine oil, now would be the time to do it. How important is your oil? Racers change their oil every 300-500 miles–that’s about as many miles as we ride in a weekend. We also swap out our engines about every 1000 miles. You certainly don’t have to do that, but don’t start a new season with old oil.
You should also change your gasoline, because gas goes bad and then your bike can run poorly. These days everything is fuel injected, and injectors get plugged up easily up if your gas is old. You wouldn’t put 6 month old gas in your car, so don’t use it in your bike. Coolant should also be drained and refilled. If your brake fluid is looking low you should top that off. And don’t forget to clean and lubricate your chain!
- Check your brakes. If you’ve noticed the brakes aren’t working as well as they used to–maybe the lever is coming to the bars, or the bike isn’t stopping as quickly as it once did– then you should bleed them and let some fresh fluid in the lines. This is something pro riders do every race weekend, because fresh fluid helps with better delivery. For casual riders, once a year is often enough. I recommend that you take your bike to a mechanic for this part. If you’re doing this at home, be careful of those tiny air bubbles that get into your lines that will cause your brakes to feel like they are fading.
- Visual inspection.Really every time you ride you should give your whole bike a visual inspection. Look at brake lines and pads, any exposed wires, and wheels. Check to make sure your wheels are spinning freely and your brakes are working correctly. Also, if you have some sockets and wrenches at home, give everything a quick tightening up. You will likely find several nuts and bolts that have become loose over a season of riding.
- Check your tires.Make sure there are no visible cracks in your tires and that there is adequate tread left. You should measure for approximately 3/32” of tread remaining. If there’s less than that, you should definitely get new tires before hitting the road. Even if your tires pass visual inspection, you should still get new ones if they’re more than a couple years old. On a car you wear your tires out before they go bad. On a bike, not so. Racing tires don’t generally last more than 20 laps, but yours will likely last a lot longer–long enough so that the rubber starts to get hard and then you get less traction. That’s never good. Also, make sure you get those pressures set to the manufacturer’s spec.
- Check your battery. Ideally, you should keep your battery on a tender all winter, and if you were able to do that you should be good to go. If not, start your bike and make sure it fires up right away. It’s better to find this out now than to be ready to go for your first ride of the year with your buddies only to find that your battery is dead and your bike won’t start. To avoid this in the future, if you don’t have a tender, get one, or start your bike every couple weeks and let it run to recharge the battery.
- Give your bike a good clean.Ideally a thorough detail would be the best, but if you don’t have the time or resources, I suggest wiping it down with a soft cloth and a degreaser such as Simple Green. Clean your wheels, forks, calipers, swingarm, bodywork and especially your windscreen if you have one! There’s nothing worse than not being able to see out of your shield when you’re going down the road. Not only will changing your fluids, inspecting everything and cleaning your bike make your bike fresh for the upcoming riding season, it will also make sure that everything is in spec, and functioning properly so you can stay as safe as possible.
- Make sure your riding gear is ready.This is a key factor in having an enjoyable experience. I would always start every season with two sets so I didn’t miss a beat if something happened to one. Most people only need one set, but give it a thorough inspection for any hole or marks to make sure it’s going to protect you properly. Small rips in chest area are okay, but if there are any rips on the elbows, shoulders, knees–any place where if you hit ground it will break open–consider buying a replacement. Don’t forget to check the zipper! You don’t want to be all ready to ride and unable to zip your suit.
- Check your helmet.If your head has ever touched the ground, you need a new helmet, period. Even if it hasn’t, helmets do not last forever. As a general rule, make sure your helmet is no more than 5 years old. The foam liner breaks down over time, and if you’ve stored your helmet in the garage, variances in temperature can also shorten its life. Check the date of manufacture, usually found on the chin strap, and get a new one if it’s too old. The materials and technology just keep getting better. Don’t forget your spring cleaning! Things collect dust, so you especially want to clean your helmet, and wipe down your armor, boots and gloves.
- Check your insurance policy!Make sure it’s up to date, that your coverages are still in line with your motorcycle and any new parts you may have put on it. If you have made upgrades, make sure you keep your receipts and any other documentation about them. I learned this the hard way when I put some nice 20” wheels on a van I bought a few years ago. The van ended up getting stolen, and I didn’t have a receipt for the wheels so I had a hard time getting them covered. I hope my advice allows you to have a safe and enjoyable riding season full of fun and memories!